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Poole on 1 Samuel 20:4-8: David's Plan to Discover Saul's Intentions

Verse 5:[1] And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to morrow is the (Num. 10:10; 28:11) new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may (1 Sam. 19:2) hide myself in the field unto the third day at even.

[It is the Kalends (thus Pagnine), חֹדֶשׁ] The month (Jonathan, Montanus); the new moon (Junius and Tremellius, thus the Septuagint, Tigurinus); the beginning of the month (Syriac, Arabic, Munster). The first day of the month (Vatablus). This was solemn to the Hebrews (Sanchez), and days of a solemn feast, Numbers 10:10; Psalm 81:3 (Junius, Piscator, Malvenda). Thus Kalends was celebrated among the Romans, Macrobius’ Saturnalia[2] 1:16. Among the Gentiles it was the ἐπιμήνια/monthly feast, concerning which Turnebus[3] teaches in his Adversaria 3:15:4:19, where he notes that the Jewish Kalends are called thirtieth Sabbaths by Horace.[4] But Saul was also celebrating on the following day, either for the sake of greater religion, or so that the remnants might be consumed, in accordance with Leviticus 7:15-17: compare Ancient Feasts[5] 1:115 (Serarius). This feast was instituted in memory of the divine blessing in the conservation of things (Estius out of Lyra). On that day they were observing a sacrifice, and thence a feast with friends. See on Numbers 28:11. For this reason, David, as a son-in-law of the king, was wont to recline at the table of Saul (Lapide nearly out of Sanchez). But it is likely that on particular days he was summoned to the royal table, especially when Saul was vexed by an evil spirit; and so in verse 27 David was desired, not only on Kalends, but also on the next day (Sanchez).

The new moon was a solemn and festival time, as among the Romans and other heathens, so also with the Hebrews, who solemnized it with offering peace-offerings to God, and feasting together upon the remainders of it, after the manner. See Numbers 10:10; 28:11; Psalm 81:3.

[And I according to custom am wont to sit, וְאָנֹכִ֛י יָשֹׁב־אֵשֵׁ֥ב] And I in sitting will sit (Jonathan, Montanus, Vatablus); I am wont to sit (Pagnine, Junius and Tremellius, similarly the Syriac, Arabic, Castalio, Piscator); when I ought to recline (Tigurinus, similarly Munster).

I should not fail to sit with the king at meat; then he useth to expect my company above other times.

[Send me away] Seeing that thou art in the place of thy father in his absence, verse 25. For, in the meantime, Saul was lingering at Naioth, 1 Samuel 19:24 (Junius).

[So that I might hide in the field] In some cave of the field he was more easily able to avoid the eyes of those lying in wait, and the tongues, than in the city (Estius).

[Unto the evening of the third day (similarly most interpreters)] Which is the second from Kalends (Vatablus). On the day after Kalends the whole matter was conducted; however, he did not lie hidden on the following day, but departed early in the morning (Estius). When it will be the evening of the third day (Junius and Tremellius). I prefer, third (Piscator); that is, on that night, from which the third day of the month begins, I will hide myself, and wait, until I am made more sure by thee, etc.: see 1 Samuel 20:12 (Malvenda out of Junius). The sense: I will hide myself until the third evening, after which the second day of the new moon or new month begins, etc. Compare verses 12, 19, 34, 35 (Piscator).

Unto the third day, that is, unto the next day but one after the new moon; as appears by comparing 1 Samuel 20:19, 27, 35. His meaning is not that he should hide himself in any certain place all the three days, but that he should secure himself, either at Bethlehem with his friends, or in any other place, till the third day.

Verse 6:[6] If thy father at all miss me, then say, David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run (1 Sam. 16:4) to Bethlehem his city: for there is a yearly sacrifice (or, feast;[7] 1 Sam. 9:12[8]) there for all the family.

[If he, looking, should ask after me, אִם־פָּקֹ֥ד יִפְקְדֵ֖נִי] If in visiting he visit me (Malvenda). If in recalling he will have recalled me (Pagnine); if in reviewing he desire me (Junius and Tremellius); if he certainly desire me (Piscator). If he should ask where I am (Vatablus). Question: But why would he think that Saul was going to desire his presence, whom previously he had attempted to kill; and so Saul was able to think that David, seeking to avoid danger, was not going to come into the presence of the King? Response: It is plausible, both that Saul thought that David would attribute those attempts on his life to madness; and that David did that, or at least persuaded himself so concerning the opinion of the King: especially since David already after such attempts on his life, having been reconciled to Saul, had returned to court, 1 Samuel 19:7 (Piscator).

If thy father at all miss me, etc.: Question: How could David imagine that Saul would expect his company, whom he had once and again endeavoured to kill? Answer: First, He might suppose that David would ascribe all that to his madness and frantic fits, which being over, he would promise himself safety in the king’s presence. Secondly, David might not think that Saul would indeed expect him to feast with him, considering his late and great danger from Saul; but that Saul would make use of this pretence, and require his presence, that he might lay hold upon him; and therefore he desired to try the experiment.

[He asked me, נִשְׁאֹל֩ נִשְׁאַ֙ל] In asking he asked of me (Pagnine, Malvenda, similarly the Septuagint, Syriac, Arabic); he earnestly implored (Tigurinus, similarly Strigelius, Vatablus). In asking he asked; the passive voice[9] is able to be taken for the active; or, by petitions he obtained (Munster). He excused himself profusely before me (Junius and Tremellius); in entreating for himself he entreated for himself from me. Thus in verse 28 (Piscator). Whether David truly said this, or not, Scripture does not reveal (Estius). That this excuse was true, nothing hinders (Malvenda out of Junius). It was able to happen, that David actually proceeded to Beth-lehem, and returned on the third day, after Kalends, as it is evident from the preceding words; and Beth-lehem was not so far distant, that David was not easily able to proceed there, and to return on the third day (Estius). The lots of Judah and Benjamin were conjoined; in such a way that one was able quickly to go from one to the other, and to return (Lyra). But if he did not, it was an officiosum/officious [thus to be read, not otiosum/otiose] lie (Estius, Malvenda).

Asked leave of me, who being the king’s son and deputy, used to give licence to military men to depart for a season upon just occasions. His city, that is, the place of his birth and education, John 7:42.

[Solemn sacrifices there] Hebrew: sacrifice of days[10] (Malvenda, Vatablus), that is, annual, as in 1 Samuel 1:21[11] (Vatablus, Piscator). Perhaps wrong-headed religion had already grown in strength, so that outside of the Tabernacle peace offerings were sacrificed in other places, thus in 1 Samuel 20:29 (Malvenda). A sacrifice was wont to be celebrated on certain days of the year (Piscator). By victimas/victims[12] understand a sacrifice, and the feast from that (Menochius). A feast, which kinsmen were having among themselves after a sacrifice for their salvation. There was a similar solemn feast among the Romans called Charistium,[13] to which, besides those related by blood and marriage, no one was admitted, as Valerius Maximus[14] speaks in Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings[15] 2:1. Ovid in Fasti 2: The next days has its name, Charistium, from chari/dear, and a crowd of relations gathers to the family gods (Grotius). A suitable and probable excuse. For it was arrogant not to accept invitations of this sort (Malvenda out of Sanchez). Should he be absent, who, because of affinity, was first of all, his kindred would take it less contentedly (Sanchez).

A yearly sacrifice; a sacrifice which was offered up in some high place there yearly, upon some special occasion not mentioned in Scripture, which was accompanied with a feast; or, a yearly feast, as the Hebrew word is sometimes used. For all the family; wherein all the members of our family used to meet together, when they will earnestly expect me above others, and will charge me with pride and unnaturalness, if I neglect their invitation.

Verse 7:[16] (see Deut. 1:23; 2 Sam. 17:4) If he say thus, It is well; thy servant shall have peace: but if he be very wroth, then be sure that (1 Sam. 25:17; Esth. 7:7) evil is determined by him.

[Thou shalt know that his malice is complete (thus Pagnine),דַּ֕ע כִּֽי־כָלְתָ֥ה הָרָעָ֖ה מֵעִמּֽוֹ׃] Thou shalt know that complete, or absolute, is the malice from with him (Septuagint, Jonathan, Montanus), before him (Tigurinus, Vatablus); that evil determined by him (Syriac, Junius and Tremellius). Hebrew: absolute. A Metonymy of the end; for, for the sake of completing or perfecting a crime, that very thing is determined previously in the mind (Piscator). Thou shalt know that he has certainly decreed to destroy me (Vatablus, Menochius). That evil was prepared for me by him (Osiander). A very probable conjecture; for the words and deeds of enemies are not wont to be proven. Add that Saul by a certain sign set forth was going to show how he was inclined to David (Menochius). But you will say, that David saw with sufficient clarity that the mind of Saul was hostile to him: why then were these wiles necessary? Response: He was indeed seeing it; but he was also seeing this, that he was agitated by an evil spirit, and for that reason he was thinking him less safe. But if he should return to himself, he thought that he was going to set aside hatred: or that, if he should continue to hate, he was going to be content with this punishment, that he would keep himself from court: but that it was not going to be necessary to flee the fatherland, and to be distant from the sacred things and ceremonies of the people of God. David wanted these things to be search out by Jonathan (Martyr).

Then be sure; Hebrew, know thou;[17] for indeed David knew well enough that Saul designed to kill him.; but he useth this course for Jonathan’s information and satisfaction, and for his own greater vindication, if he did wholly withdraw himself from Saul, and from his wife; which he foresaw he should be forced to do.

Verse 8:[18] Therefore thou shalt (Josh. 2:14) deal kindly with thy servant; for (1 Sam. 20:16; 18:3; 23:18) thou hast brought thy servant into a covenant of the LORD with thee: notwithstanding, (2 Sam. 14:32) if there be in me iniquity, slay me thyself; for why shouldest thou bring me to thy father?

Thou shalt deal kindly with thy servant, in giving me timely notice, and a true account of Saul’s disposition and intention towards me.

[A covenant of the Lord] Thus he calls it, either, 1. because it was made before the Lord (Menochius, Lapide, Vatablus). 2. Because it was confirmed by the name of the Lord (Martyr, similarly Lapide). 3. Made by the will of the Lord (Menochius). 4. Enacted in the respect, veneration, and love of God (Lapide). 5. Because he made it for the glory of the divine name, and for the liberation of the Republic. 6. Because those allied together ought to have one after the likeness of the Deity, to help one another. 7. Because God is the avenger of the violated covenant. Hence the Gentiles’ gods were ὅρκιοι (avengers of covenants, or oaths) (Martyr). Moreover, in the Hebrew it is, into covenant thou hast caused to come:[19] So also do the Latins speak; Virgil’s Æneid 4, …or did I come into these covenants? (Malvenda).

A covenant of the Lord, that is, a solemn covenant, not lightly undertaken, but seriously entered into, in the name and fear of God, and in his presence, calling him to be the witness of our sincerity therein, and the avenger of perfidiousness in him that breaks it.

[Slay me thyself] That is to say, I would rather die by the hand of a friend, than of an enemy. For a friend would inflict a very gentle death, and attend the death of his friend with tears; while, on the other hand, enemies are savage towards those that they kill, etc. (Menochius, similarly Lapide). Thus Phædra in Seneca,[20] I would very much like to die by the hands of one loving. Similarly the Japanese dispatch their friends, condemned to death by the King, lest that be done by an executioner. He makes use of this expression for Pathos, so that he might bring grief to the heart of Jonathan, and compel him to take up his cause (Lapide). Moreover, how rightly David acts, is evident from this, that he first carries himself to Samuel, so that he might take some consolation from the word of God; afterwards, he betakes himself to human helps, and consults his friend, Jonathan (Martyr).

Slay me thyself; I am contented thou shouldst kill me. Why shouldest thou bring me to thy father? why shouldst thou betray me to thy father, by concealing his evil intentions from me?

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֙אמֶר דָּוִ֜ד אֶל־יְהוֹנָתָ֗ן הִֽנֵּה־חֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ מָחָ֔ר וְאָנֹכִ֛י יָשֹׁב־אֵשֵׁ֥ב עִם־הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ לֶאֱכ֑וֹל וְשִׁלַּחְתַּ֙נִי֙ וְנִסְתַּרְתִּ֣י בַשָּׂדֶ֔ה עַ֖ד הָעֶ֥רֶב הַשְּׁלִשִֽׁית׃ [2] Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius’ (395-423) wrote Saturnalia, an account of a discussion held at the house of Vettius Agorius Prætextatus during the festival of Saturnalia about Roman festivals and worship, etc. [3] Adrianus Turnebus (1512-1565) was a classical scholar, who taught at the University of Toulouse and at the College Royal. Joseph Scaliger was among his students. [4]Satire 1:9, 16. [5]Antiqua Convivia. [6] Hebrew: אִם־פָּקֹ֥ד יִפְקְדֵ֖נִי אָבִ֑יךָ וְאָמַרְתָּ֗ נִשְׁאֹל֩ נִשְׁאַ֙ל מִמֶּ֤נִּי דָוִד֙ לָרוּץ֙ בֵּֽית־לֶ֣חֶם עִיר֔וֹ כִּ֣י זֶ֧בַח הַיָּמִ֛ים שָׁ֖ם לְכָל־הַמִּשְׁפָּחָֽה׃ [7] Hebrew: זֶבַח. [8] 1 Samuel 9:12: “And they answered them, and said, He is; behold, he is before you: make haste now, for he came to day to the city; for there is a sacrifice (זֶבַח) of the people to day in the high place…” [9] The verb is in the Niphal conjugation, normally associated with the passive voice. [10] Hebrew: זֶ֧בַח הַיָּמִ֛ים. [11] 1 Samuel 1:21: “And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the Lord the yearly sacrifice (אֶת־זֶ֥בַח הַיָּמִ֖ים, the sacrifice of days), and his vow.” [12] Thus the Vulgate. [13]Charistium was a family love-feast of three days, during which feuds were settled. [14] Valerius Maximus was a first century Roman collector of antiquities. [15] Factorum et Dictorum Memorabilium Libri Novem. [16] Hebrew: אִם־כֹּ֥ה יֹאמַ֛ר ט֖וֹב שָׁל֣וֹם לְעַבְדֶּ֑ךָ וְאִם־חָרֹ֤ה יֶֽחֱרֶה֙ ל֔וֹ דַּ֕ע כִּֽי־כָלְתָ֥ה הָרָעָ֖ה מֵעִמּֽוֹ׃ [17] Hebrew: דַּע. [18] Hebrew: וְעָשִׂ֤יתָ חֶ֙סֶד֙ עַל־עַבְדֶּ֔ךָ כִּ֚י בִּבְרִ֣ית יְהוָ֔ה הֵבֵ֥אתָ אֶֽת־עַבְדְּךָ֖ עִמָּ֑ךְ וְאִם־יֶשׁ־בִּ֤י עָוֹן֙ הֲמִיתֵ֣נִי אַ֔תָּה וְעַד־אָבִ֖יךָ לָמָּה־זֶּ֥ה תְבִיאֵֽנִי׃ [19] Hebrew: בִּבְרִ֣ית יְהוָ֔ה הֵבֵ֥אתָ אֶֽת־עַבְדְּךָ֖ עִמָּ֑ךְ. [20] In Seneca’s Phædra, Phædra, wife of King Theseus of Athens, is overcome with desire for her stepson, Hippolytus, which ruins her.

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